Edinburgh buildings: Scottish Government headquarters more than half empty

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The Scottish Government’s two main buildings in Edinburgh are both more than half empty most of the time, according to newly-released figures.

The government’s headquarters at St Andrew’s House in Regent Road, where top ministers are based, and Victoria Quay in Leith, built to house hundreds of civil servants, have typical occupancy rates of around one-third.

St Andrew's House, the Scottish Government's headquarters, was never more than 38 per cent phone St Andrew's House, the Scottish Government's headquarters, was never more than 38 per cent phone
St Andrew's House, the Scottish Government's headquarters, was never more than 38 per cent phone

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Figures released under Freedom of Information show the capacity at Victoria Quay was never more than 30.5 per cent used across December 2023 and January this year.

And St Andrew’s House was never more than 38 per cent full over the same period, with the expansive building just a quarter filled on work days across every week in January

Ministers have been accused of “carelessness with public money” in view of the heating and energy costs for the buildings at a time when many staff continue to work from home on a hybrid basis in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

At the Scottish Government’s offices at 4 Atlantic Quay in Glasgow, only one in seven desks was in use at most on any week in December and January, although the building has since been closed following an estates review.

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Saughton House in Edinburgh was also only up to a third full at any stage over the same period. However, Bute House, the official residence of First Minister Humza Yousaf, was sometimes over-occupied.

Occupancy levels at St Andrew’s House were 83 per cent in March 2020 before the pandemic hit. More than 2,000 civil servants are based at St Andrew’s House, together with ministerial offices and a media centre, accrding to 2022 figures. A contract worth £734,921 was awarded to project management company Faithful Gould in 2022 to refurbish the Scottish Government’s headquarters.

Two former Government ministers, Ivan McKee and Ben Macpherson, last year suggested making a proportion of the administration's premises at Victoria Quay open to tech and creative businesses to save public money and boost economic activity in the area.

Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for business, economic growth and tourism Murdo Fraser said: “The SNP should be looking at every option for reducing government costs, given the financial shambles they have created.

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“We all know that working patterns have changed, but if increased home working is to be the norm, the Government should conduct a rigorous review of offices and infrastructure – and examine the wider impact on local business, transport and other facilities.

“This is an obvious example of why it is essential to call a halt to the SNP’s habitual carelessness with public money.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government estate is under review to allow us to plan for affordable, inclusive, accessible, modern, secure, energy efficient buildings of the right size to meet our changing needs and net zero ambitions, as well as to ensure best value for taxpayers’ money. This includes closing 4 Atlantic Quay in Glasgow to consolidate office space and ensure greater efficiency in our existing buildings.

“The Scottish Government is committed to flexible hybrid working for its workforce, enabling staff to work from a range of settings, including working regularly with colleagues in the office and connecting with stakeholders and communities. Managers are asked to establish a model with their teams to ensure business needs are met.”

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